By Lynn Paris
For my first column of 2013, I thought about writing about the horrific tragedy in Newtown, but after reading C.C. Youngren’s column I knew he had done it better than I ever could. It’s brilliant; you should read it. I also considered the re-election of Obama, the fiscal cliff, gun control and a host of other current issues and challenges, but then I read T.L. Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Red and realized that he’d covered just about everything I’d want to say, and done it so well that all I could really do is recommend that you read that, too. We’re blessed to have two such talented columnists writing for Netlistings.
That left me with only one thing . . . wrapping up this amazing Texas A&M football season. Everyone says it, but you don’t know until you experience it; there’s absolutely nothing like having a great football team. Not just for fans of the game, mind you, but it lifts the spirits and puts smiles on the faces of everyone involved with the university.
This team’s ultimate success began more than a year ago when the decision was made to leave the Big 12 for what most consider the conference of champions, the rough, tough SEC – a 100-year decision, as Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin put it. We understood the reasons for the move: infinitely more national exposure and visibility for Texas A&M University, a far more stable conference and a whole lot more money. And the SEC was a great fit; the schools all had the same rabid fans and devotion to their own unique traditions that the Aggies are known for, mixed with that southern hospitality that made Aggie fans feel welcome right away.
I know, because I participated in the excitement of our official Welcome to the SEC announcement celebration at Texas A&M attended by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, as well as the event of the summer, the SEC-Atlanta Welcome party that we co-hosted with the University of Missouri in the heart of SEC country. VIP representatives from the SEC universities attended, along with close to a thousand fans and alumni from SEC schools; it was one great party. And the over-arching feeling was welcome; we’re glad to have you . . . and in a few years we’re sure you’ll be able to play “big boy” football. Most of us, in our heart of hearts, didn’t really disagree with that assessment.
Of course, we did have a charismatic new head coach named Kevin Sumlin, who promptly brought in DC Mark Snyder, OC Kliff Kingsbury and a whole new coaching staff, a new training regimen led by condition coach Larry Jackson, new schemes, new attitudes, a new athletic director, even new uniforms, all of which kept the excitement going and the confidence of players and fans building. We had a bunch of great returning players, like Ryan Swope, Sean Porter, Patrick Lewis, Jonathan Stewart, Dustin Harris, Damontre Moore, Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and many more who bought into it all and practiced like they had something to prove.
And by August, Sumlin finally chose his starting quarterback, a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel. The rest, as they say, is history.
This is not a recap of our amazing season; I leave that to the sportswriters who have covered it from every angle. It’s not a tribute to Johnny Football, either; he has already received every possible tribute the world of college sports has to offer. Instead, this is simply a thank you from a grateful fan. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this season, even the initial loss against Florida.
It was during that game that we first experienced JFF . . . and I have to admit there were times when we looked at each other and said, “What the heck is he doing?” as he made some of his characteristic improvisational runs. At the same time, I took two thoughts away with me from that game. The first was that this team was nothing like the team from the year before; they had fight and intensity in them on every play. Our defense was transformed, and even though they ultimately lost the game, at that point we all knew we could play “big boy” football. And the second thought was perhaps best expressed by what I told my son in Los Angeles the next day. I told him, “Remember this name, Peter. Johnny Manziel. You’re going to be hearing a lot about him.”
Of course, the highlight of the season was going into Tuscaloosa and defeating number-one-ranked Alabama. Talk about national exposure for Texas A&M. Talk about unbridled excitement. Talk about a contender for the Heisman Trophy.
From that point to having three Aggies named as consensus All-Americans, to Joeckel winning the Outland Trophy and Manziel the Davey O’Brien, to numerous Coach-of-the-Year honors and then the most prestigious honor of all, the Heisman Trophy going to Johnny Manziel because, even though he’s a freshman he could not be denied, it’s been a glorious journey.
And finally, three days after New Year’s Eve and the night before my birthday, the Aggies played in the Cotton Bowl where they defeated, no, routed the Co-Big 12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners. It’s been electrifying, exhilarating and I’ve loved every record-setting, record-breaking moment of it. What a way to enter 2013. What a fantastic birthday present. What a great time to be in Aggieland.
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